The CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing is being published from the GOP Convention in Tampa, Fla., this week. For more information on signing up to receive this free email, click here.
THE PODIUM: The convention’s final meeting opens at 7; the climax starts at about 10:20, when Romney will take the stage (using a set altered just for him, and appearing on every broadcast and cable station with any interest in governance) to deliver the most important speech of his long and varied career.
The first hour’s headliners will be Newt and Callista Gingrich, who will share the stage. There will be the customary video tribute to Ronald Reagan. Decent-shot host-state Senate aspirant Connie Mack has been awarded a few minutes in the national spotlight, but the Floridian who’ll get more coverage is Jeb Bush. His speech is the second-hour highlight. The 9 o’clock hour will be devoted to in-person and on-tape nominee testimonials — from Staples co-founder (and Bain Capital beneficiary) Tom Stemberg; Romney’s lieutenant governor and top economic development official in Massachusetts, Kerry Healey and Jane Edmonds; and Olympians Michael Eruzione, Derek Parra and Kim Rhode.
There’s overwhelming gossip about the identity of a “mystery guest” (Clint Eastwood, almost certainly) to kick off the prime time hour. But the only other scheduled speaker is Marco Rubio, who’s been allotted a full 15 minutes to remind people why he’s a rising GOP star — and to introduce Romney. His speech is supposed to be done in time for the balloon drop to begin right at the start of the 11 o’clock news.
THE TICKET: The pair came to the floor a few minutes ago and posed for a “class photograph” with dozens of senior campaign aides; Romney then toured the stage. This morning, he held two meetings with donors and then had a reception with more than 100 members of his extended family at the Marriott inside the security perimeter. (Where else, given the chain’s anti-union, GOP-friendly bent and his former service on the board of the nation’s most prominent Mormon-run business.) Ryan was looking at the coverage of last night’s speech and is remaining generally out of sight until it’s time to take the stage with Romney for the traditional triumphant ticket tableau.
THE OTHER TICKET: Obama and Biden are both at the White House and have no on-camera plans. But the president, in an interview with Time released this morning, predicted “there will be some popping of the blister after this election” and that if he’s re-elected the next four years will be more legislatively productive than the last four. That’s because, he said, “the American people will have made a decision. And, hopefully, that will impact how Republicans think about these problems.”
FEATURES OF THE 2012 MODEL: Only five of the next 68 nights really matter in deciding who wins the presidential election. And only tonight affords Mitt Romney an unfiltered, unchallenged opportunity to explain himself to the nation and lay out his vision for the next four years.
Barack Obama will be just a few feet away on three of the other nights — and so he’ll be quickly able to rebut if not quite refute whatever his challenger says during their debates on the first Wednesday (the 3rd), third Tuesday (the 16th) and fourth Monday (the 22nd) of October. (The other Big Night is the vice-presidential debate on the 11th, but it will only be a genuine game-changer if Biden or Ryan say something the nation concludes should disqualify one of them from the top job.) And so the acceptance-speech stakes couldn’t be any higher for the Republican nominee. And the range of challenges he faces are broad and deep and nettlesome — and go far beyond the fact that his speaking style is short on both the funny and the fiery.
The political professionals and party leaders inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum know and respect his campaign’s story of ambitious endurance, electoral survival and ideological adaptation. But the 14 million voters who haven’t made up their mind — 10 percent of those expected to cast ballots Nov. 6 — don’t know or don’t remember or don’t care that Romney has been running toward the White House nonstop for more than 2,000 days, or that he survived intense surges in the past year from five very different GOP rivals, or that he’s transformed himself from an apostle of old-line, pro-business, socially liberal New England Republicanism into a standard-bearer for today’s anti-establishment, small-government, pro-life, pro-gun, tea-party-infused GOP. The undecided electorate cares much more about whether the reserved 65-year-old multimillionaire who might lead their nation and shape their world for the next four years has any life experiences they can relate to — and which might help him to understand and empathize with them. They want reassurance that the odd-ball stories (about Mormonism and dogs on the car roof and trees being all the right height) are distracting caricatures, not windows into his soul. They want him to be likeable enough.
Substantively, these undecideds want to hear specifics about what would happen in Washington if they decide to replace the current president. They want something to vote for if they’re going to vote against what they have now. They want to know how Romney would break the gridlock and persuade a closely-divided Congress (a sure thing, no matter which parties ended up in nominal control of the House and Senate next year)  to do his bidding. And they want to know more about what exactly his legislative program would be — for creating the 12 million jobs he’s promised before 2016 (that’s an average of 250,000 a month), reshaping the Capitol’s spending priorities, shrinking  the federal government’s reach, slowing the debt clock, simplifying the tax code, overhauling the medical insurance system for a second time this decade, and preventing the rise of a bellicose and nuclear-armed Iran.
How well Romney does in fulfilling that phenomenally tall order will not be known for a while. No matter what he says, by tomorrow morning the GOP will be crowing with confidence about its impending convention bounce. And it will probably get one — although it may not last beyond next Tuesday’s opening of the Democratic convention. Four years ago, the Obama bounce out of Denver was recorded at 4 percentage points; a week later, the McCain bounce out of St. Paul was pegged at 6 points. Two months later, Obama won by 7 points.
THE RYAN BUMP: If Romney is seeking to be fueled by the energy in the room, as he surely is, he should have little trouble feeling it if last night’s vibe is any indication. The atmosphere from the start was an order of magnitude better than on opening night — plenty of waving placards and ample, fervent energy coming from an overflow crowd. (It’s always a good sign for the organizers when the fire marshal has to close the hall, and that happened before the network coverage started at 10.) Ryan’s energetic embrace of his attack dog role and his eloquent advocacy for his running mate sounded as good in person as they did on TV. And his timing and pacing had the sound levels peaking to their crescendo even as he accelerated his text in order to hit his mandatory 11 p.m. close. But the go-to sound bites that the congressional press corps knows so well didn’t get nearly the same ovations as the lines (“My mom is my role model,” the iPod playlist bit, “college graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters”) written especially for the night.
WHAT DOESN’T HOLD UP: What’s getting the Wisconsin congressman and his ticket into a bit of trouble today are a troika of his fact-challenged (or fact-limited) assertions. His excoriation of Obama for doing “exactly nothing” with the recommendations of his Simpson-Bowles deficit commission ignored the fact that the president knew from the start the proposal was a dead-letter at the Capitol — because Ryan, a commission member himself, voted “no” on the plan and then orchestrated the House GOP decision to come out against it. The vice-presidential nominee also repeated his campaign’s attack on the president for agreeing to make $716 billion in Medicare cuts and savings the main pay-for in the health care law — but did not mention that his own House budget plan counted on maintaining those same reductions (which shrink payments to hospitals and insurance plans but don’t trim benefits directly) in the name of lowering the deficit. Ryan also lambasted the 2009 stimulus as “political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst,” although after the law was enacted he was active in trying to get some of the money sent to energy conservation businesses in Wisconsin. Finally, he claimed that Obama had misled his neighbors in Janesville about the prospects for saving the local GM plant — although it stopped production a month before Obama became president, at which point he pushed through an auto industry bailout that helped the company (though did not save the Janesville plant).
ONLY THE STRONG: The Ryan speech brought into the arena almost all the congressional incumbents who came to town — and, taken together, they seemed to be no more than 20 percent of the House GOP caucus and fewer than a dozen of the 47 senators. (Lamar Alexander, Jon Kyl and Orrin Hatch were among the small group who came to Tampa as surrogates without podium positions.)
Boehner, who was the ceremonial chairman, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who was assigned to be a sort-of master of ceremonies in the hall all three nights, gathered in a skybox with almost all the other House majority’s leaders — Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Sessions and his NRCC deputy Greg Walden — to watch the speech by the Budget Committee chairman, the first sitting House member since Bill Miller in 1964 to become a GOP nominee for national office. Like each of them, almost all the other lawmakers in Tampa (where they have the services of a temporary “cloakroom” under the podium) are holding entirely safe seats back home. Two of the most notable exceptions have been freshmen Sean Duffy, a friend and Wisconsin colleague of Ryan’s, and Michael Grimm, who’s hold on his Staten Island seat has been imperiled by the federal probe into his 2010 campaign fundraising.
THE EXTEMPORANEOUS: Much is being made about the fact that the Teleprompter was totally turned off last night for Condi Rice’s speech — the only time that has happened during the week, and a clear bow by the Romney rhetorical micromanagement operation to the reality that the former college professor and secretary of State is about as reliable as it gets in being eloquent off the cuff. But, to be fair, the she-was-the-only-one-who-could-do-that-without-a-script accolades deserve an asterisk. The other House Budget chairman who got a turn at the podium, the hyperkinetic Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, was somewhat surprisingly entrusted to speak  with nothing more than about 200 words of talking points plugged into the ’prompter on Tuesday night. He conceded beforehand that he had “no clue” how long he’d talk for but promised his speech would be better received than his two previous convention appearances. Judging by the sound bites played the next day, he was right.
QUOTE OF NOTE: “I wonder about conventions as part of our political process,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin — the most prominent congressional Democrat offering in-person counter-spin at the GOP convention — told reporters and editors in the CQ Roll Call Tampa newsroom last night. “It’s a pretty expensive undertaking and time-consuming undertaking, and the day may come, in the world of social media, that there’s another way to do this.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No lawmakers or other government officials of note — but one public figure who drives Republicans nuts: I-don’t-pay-enough-taxes financier and philanthropist Warren Buffett (82).
PUBLISHING NOTE: The Daily Briefing is packing up overnight and heading for Charlotte; publication will resume on Sunday, as delegates begin arriving for the Democratic National Convention. The briefing will be delivered at 4 then and on each of the next four days —to allow more timely updates, clearer insights into each day’s developments and better forecasting about the session ahead.
— David Hawkings, editor
More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.
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